In December 2012, Hillary Clinton, weakened by a stomach virus, fell in her home and got a concussion. That led to a blood clot forming between her brain and skull. The clot was treated and Clinton, with a clean bill of health, returned to her punishing schedule as our nation’s top diplomat. And for most of us, that was all there was to it.
Or was it? Yesterday at a conference, Republican strategist Karl Rove argued that Clinton may have brain damage. “Thirty days in the hospital? And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury?” Rove reportedly said. “We need to know what’s up with that.”
Er, no, Mr. Rove. What America needs to know is what’s up with your conspiracy theory-based fear mongering that is obviously intended to simultaneously highlight Clinton’s age (old people slip and fall) and undermine her credibility as a female candidate (playing to sexist stereotypes that women are mentally unstable or simply less intelligent). Mr. Rove, you make these claims purely as conjecture without any facts, fanned by the emotions of your partisanship. If you weren’t a guy, I might call you hysterical and paranoid.
George W. Bush had periodic episodes of alcohol abuse throughout his life leading up to running for President at age 54, including in 1976 when he was arrested for driving under the influence. There was also well-documented evidence that Bush had done cocaine during the same period.
When Dick Cheney, at age 54, was Bush’s running mate, he had suffered three heart attacks—including on the year of the election — and had open heart surgery and a pacemaker installed. President Obama has written that, in his youth, he used marijuana and “maybe a little blow.” Mitt Romney had 16 grandchildren when he ran for President in 2012 and two more were born during the campaign. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was inaugurated President.
These were all by-and-large non-issues when these men ran for office—certainly fodder for the opposition, but barely taken seriously and certainly not used to wage larger critiques on these candidates’ character and qualifications. These were people who, whatever one thought of them, were obviously qualified for the offices they sought. A few behavioral or circumstantial dings weren’t going to change that fact.
Not so for the (maybe, possible) woman candidate who not only suffers the same slings and arrows aimed at her character but is constantly deflecting those attacks from impugning her fundamental ability to lead. If she chooses to run, Hillary Clinton faces a built-in uphill battle in a society that wonders if a woman is inherently equipped to be president—sentiments given voice and legs by conservative commentators.
And so while the similar realities of male candidates are basically left alone, the political chattering class endlessly debates whether Hillary Clinton, currently 66, is too old to be President or whether she would even want the job given that she’s about to be a grandmother.
When Dick Cheney had his fourth heart attack shortly after the Supreme Court made him vice president, followed soon after by a pacemaker and defibrillator being installed, I don’t recall any serious political figures suggesting that Cheney was no longer qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Then again, in our macho society amplified by the old boys club of politics, maybe having a heart simply isn’t as important as having a brain. For politicians, that is. Both rational thought and decent humanity seem missing in so many political talking heads.
Which brings me back to Mr. Rove. In December 2012, Hillary Clinton spent four days in the hospital—not 30. Mr. Rove should very simply and immediately apologize for this error and set the record straight. Moreover, experts made clear that the glasses Clinton wore after the accident were meant to treat double vision as a result of the accident and were not indicative of brain damage. Unless Mr. Rove has suddenly added ophthalmology to his resume of manipulating voters and freaking out on election night, he might want to apologize for this mistake as well.
Then, at the very least, those attacking not only Hillary Clinton’s qualifications but her fundamental chromosomal capacity to be president would at least be twisting facts as opposed to outright lying.